JONESBORO — The grind through preseason practice has taken its toll on football teams across the country.
With no reward until the season begins, the repetition of running the same plays, same drills and same workouts day after day begins to wear mentally and physically.
By the time game week finally arrives, most players, coaches and teams are frothing to let loose. That’s not the case at Arkansas State, though.
The Red Wolves aren’t ready and they won’t be ready until Saturday evening around 6 p.m., according to new ASU coach Bryan Harsin.
“No, we’re not,” Harsin said when asked if ASU was ready for its opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. “I think the players would completely disagree with me on that — they’re ready to go, they could play right now. (But) no, we need to have our best week (of practice).”
Arkansas State kicks off the season on Saturday at 6 p.m. against UAPB at Liberty Bank Stadium.
What stands in the way of the opener is three more physical practices that conclude on Thursday, followed by a walk-through on Friday. After 23 practices through fall camp, ASU has installed most of its base offense and defense.
Now it’s a matter of fine-tuning and putting in place the game plan. But Harsin says all that preparation comes down to how the Red Wolves approach these final few days of practice.
“This week needs to go according to plan,” Harsin said. “They’ve got to come out, they need to work hard, they need to be prepared and they need to execute. This process needs to go the way that we expect it to go, the way that we’ve coached it and the way that we’ve talked about it.”
The things Harsin has talked about is being ready for a team that will be balanced running and throwing the football. They’ll also contend with a dual-threat quarterback and lots of speed at the skill positions.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff won 10 games last season and captured the Southwestern Athletic Conference title. The Golden Lions averaged right at 400 yards offense a game, almost perfectly split with 201 yards rushing and 199 passing.
“This team did very well, 10-2 last year and they’re picked to win it again,” Harsin said. “They’ve got guys coming back that they feel like are good players; they’ve got their quarterback back.”
The Golden Lions will count on quarterback Ben Anderson, who has started each of the past two years. Anderson passed for 2,346 yards and 16 touchdowns last season and also rushed for 524 yards and five scores.
UAPB senior tailback Justin Billings also returns after rushing for 852 yards and five TDs last fall.
The receiving corps includes 6-foot-1 senior leader Ladarius Eckwood, who caught 52 passes for 787 yards and six TDs, along with 6-2, 210-pound tight end Dezmond Beverly. A hybrid blocking back and receiver, Beverly was second on the team with 46 catches for 434 yards and six scores last season.
“We feel like those guys have some very good players at the skill positions,” Harsin said. “We also feel like up in their front line on both sides are strong. It’s important for us that they understand that and they know the type of matchups they’re going to get.”
Opponents picked off Anderson 13 times last year while UAPB put the football on the ground 20 times, losing 12 fumbles.
Harsin believes the Golden Lions will try to spread the Red Wolves out and create gaps in the defense. They’d prefer to have Anderson in a drop-back attack but he has options and can take off and run.
Harsin said every team is different from the previous season, so knowing what to expect from UAPB isn’t as simple as it might seem.
“There will be things in this game that we haven’t prepared for and we understand that,” Harsin said. “In watching these guys, we feel like we have a handle on it, but you still never know exactly what you’re going to get.”
Arkansas State will try to simulate UAPB’s schemes over the next three days.
The Red Wolves went through a couple of workouts over the weekend, including some light preparation Sunday. They took Monday off and return to work this afternoon.
Harsin has been pleased with the attitude and focus during practice so far. But he won’t be satisfied unless the same work continues up until game day Saturday.
“At the end of the game it should reflect the process we’ve had throughout the week,” Harsin said. “If that goes well, we need to recreate it and make it better. That’s what our mindset is and how we go about it.”